Several weeks ago the kid took a shining to knock knock jokes (remember the bit about being silly?). At first, she actually sort of got it. She hadn't quite grasped the comedic timing required to deliver interrupting cow but that's sort of the upper echelon of the knock knock œuvre. She even showed signs of mastering the complexity of banana, banana, banana, orange. I was, understandably, proud.
But then I unwittingly threw a wrench into the works.
"Knock knock," declared I.
"Who's there?" countered she.
"No thank you, I prefer peanuts."
This punchline struck a chord with my daughter. So much so that she seems to have decided all knock knock jokes of her own creation (of which there seems to be an infinite number) need to follow this structure. The supply is infinite, of course, because she tells these jokes while channeling the comedic inspiration of Steve Carell's Brick "I love lamp" Tamland in the classic film Anchorman, naming things she sees.
The result? Hear for yourself:
The "hey, why isn't anyone laughing" bit is my favourite.
On another note, the kid is almost three and a half so it's not so much "Talking to Todders" as it is "Talking to Preschoolers." But hey, ALLITERATION.
In many ways, my kid is her mother's daughter. The kid's a spitting image of her mom at that age and they share many of the same quirks and idiosyncracies.
But then she'll hide on the stairs, loudly stage whisper "Daddy, call the audience" then run into the room and leap on to her stool-turned-stage as the last of my "ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls" shouts fade into the air. She'll perform her latest dance routine, or work her impressive slapstick chops, or mangle her favourite knock knock jokes — pausing every few seconds with a sly smile to make sure the gathered masses are paying attention.
And in those moments, she's every inch my daughter.
I'm a big fan of silly. I come by it honestly. My maternal grandfather is a storyteller by nature ("it's not lying if you don't expect anyone to believe you," he likes to say) and both of my parents enjoy spinning a good yarn or working a room when given the chance. I grew up playing in bands and I always liked to have a mic to work the crowd, even though I was never a frontman in any traditional sense. Even in my work life, my colleagues would likely describe as gregarious and loud.
My wife and I were both surprised that my daughter exhibits a shy streak when confronted with a new social situation. The same bouncing, dancing ham that lines up her dolls to be her audience when she and I practice our juggling is a wallflower at preschool. But, despite my outwardly extroverted personality, I too tended to be withdrawn in new environments growing up. At the same time as I was putting on shows and staging fake radio shows with my cousins, my parents had to literally drag me into my new school after we moved (sorry 'bout that, Mom and Dad). While I was doing lip sync routines with a wooden fake guitar cut out of plywood, I would have panic attacks at the thought of going out to a choir recital.
But as I got older, I got more confident. I'm still nervous at times and tend to be quieter or more withdrawn in certain situations but, on the whole, I've learned to be outgoing and social. How? By embracing my inner silly. I've grown comfortable in being a bit of a ham when the situation warrants, whether that be by cracking self-deprecating jokes as a public speaker or by strictly enforcing the office high five policy that I wrote and distribute to all new hires.
So when I hear my kid shouting "ladies and genkle-men, boys and girls" I smile and think, that's it kid, embrace the silly. It'll serve you well.
Parents of the 21st century:
We live in a world where preteens are going head to head in beauty contests over instagram. And where sexual assuault victims being bullied to the point of suicide is a thing that happens. More than once. And each time something new like this pops up, I am floored by the number of parents who are shocked.
Much of what we love about our new digital reality — the ability to find communities of people with shared interests; the speed with which we are able to connect; the forums we are provided to share and explore — also opens the door to things we sometimes would rather not confront. The ability to mirror and amplify views and opinions that many might find repugnant; the cloaking effect of anonymity that seems to give so many with ill will comfort; the echo chamber that somehow normalizes extreme views and actions.
This isn't to blame the internet — technology may be able to reinforce and perpetuate hate and ill will but it doesn't create them — nor even to pass judgement on the people who inhabit the darker fringes of the online space. But as parents we have a responsibility to at least know what's out there and to damn well talk to our kids about it.
As digital parents, we must commit to knowing what is out there. Emerging pop culture fads like Snapchat and Vine; subculture standards like the darker subreddits of Reddit or NSFW boards of 4chan — it's incumbent on all of us to know what these things are and how they can be used by people of nefarious intent.
Furthermore, we must commit to thinking beyond the computer. We're living in an era of hyperconnectivity. Mobile phone apps and text messaging... even gaming consoles allow people to connect online. And this doesn't even begin to consider what's known as the deep web — the parts of the internet beyond the browser, where filesharing and discussion forums go on far past what most people see. And where there's connectivity, there's the risk that someone will try to use it for something inappropriate.
However alarming this all may seem, though, we must commit to living in this world. For most of us, disconnecting is, for the most part, not an option. This is our reality; this is our society. Many of us consider ourselves digital natives. Our children most certainly will. This is how we live and it isn't going away, nor should it. The good far outweighs the bad. But the bad is real and we do our children a disservice to pretend otherwise.
So we must commit to educating our kids as well as ourselves. Not restricting. Not coddling. Educating. Engaging. Making sure they understand the risk and the rewards of digital life. Teach them to respect, not fear, what technology can do. Make sure they know what screencaps are; how passwords can be compromised; how cache searches mean nothing is deletable anymore. Make sure they know the implications of what they do online and also how to react when they see others being victimized.
And we must commit to teaching our children to value and respect others, whether in person or online. Don't focus solely on making sure they aren't the victim, help them understand how not to be the victimizer or the passive observer that allows them to do what they do. Ultimately, this isn't really about the technology at all, it's about what the technology enables. Creating a culture of respect will do far more in the long run than exploring the deep web ever will.